Originally published in Earshot Jazz July 2015
On the sunny afternoon I arrived at guitarist Rik Wright’s townhouse, a note taped to the door said, “We’re out back. Just go left around the corner.” There I found Rik sitting atop a stool, rocking gently forward and back over his steel string hollow body guitar, while Geoff Harper swayed side to side, eyes closed, slow dancing with his stand-up bass in the shade of an umbrella. Geoff’s mom sat in a patio chair nearby, softly singing her own melody, sipping occasionally from a tall glass of iced tea.
The warm plucking of metal strings on wood instruments in the clear air evoked Appalachia, but the intervals between the guitar melody and bass notes sounded more urbane. The music transcended genres, not fitting snugly in any one style. Rik’s category skirting sound emanated from his formal training in jazz and life experience in rock and roll.
A gentle breeze lifted the music paper off the patio table so Rik anchored it with a bottle of bourbon. Somewhere nearby, a chainsaw roared to life. The duo stopped. “Where are you?” Geoff asked. A discussion of navigation through the score ensued, pausing to sip iced tea. They were rehearsing Rik’s tune called “Overcast” for a recording session scheduled at Jack Straw Studio the following day. Rik counted off the song again. Then Geoff explored the melody on bass over strummed guitar chords.
Rik and Geoff perform together in the band Fundamental Forces, along with saxophonist James Dejoie and drummer Greg Campbell. The band’s second CD, Red, rang the bell at the top of the CMJ Jazz Radio chart in January. Now, Rik is assembling songs for the band’s third release by capturing performances once a month in the recording studio.
One big challenge for Rik has been self criticism. “Musicians have the lowest opinion of themselves,” he confesses. It can take months for him to be forgiving enough to listen to a playback. But Rik has a streak of organization and discipline from his career in technology consulting that keeps him moving forward.
It also takes time for an artist to discover their unique sound. When Rik studied jazz at Virginia Commonwealth University, pianist Ellis Marsalis told his eager young students, “Ain’t none of you gonna know shit about jazz for 30 years.”
In the years since receiving Marsalis’ sage advice, Rik shed the rigid rules he learned, rethought the what and why of his music, and focused on making his own personal sonic statement. He built his sound around a few key ingredients – simple compositions, catchy melodies, and strong bass lines as launching pads for the band.
Those features are evident in Rik’s recordings. The harmony is often a single chord or chords sharing many common tones. The bass lines and groove continue virtually unaltered throughout a song. In between the opening and closing melody, soloists slowly unwind modal explorations. All of the acoustic instruments play with pure tones and Rik’s amplified hollow body guitar is supplemented by a light wash of effects. The music evolves gradually.
But Rik also likes surprises and serendipity from the interplay of people coming together, sharing ideas, and catalyzing something fresh and unexpected. To that end, he teamed up with Dennis Rea, Jason Goessl, and John Seman to present Zero-G Concerts. Since the first performance at the Mars Bar in 2010, Zero-G venues have expanded to include the Comet Tavern, Egan’s Ballard Jam House, The Mix, Lucid Jazz Lounge, White Rabbit, LoFi Performance Gallery, the Royal Room, and the Chapel Performance Space. The goal is to juxtapose a variety of improvising instrumentalists playing original music and taking big risks in front of diverse audiences. Some bands have actually formed from musicians sharing the same bill.
“The Seattle music community has an openness that is uncommon and lately there are lots of gigs here compared to many other cities,” Rik told me over lunch. “I’m most interested in engaging the musical community and enjoying myself. My career goal is just to not have any CDs left in my closet when I’m done. But when I get on stage and Geoff gets me to laugh before we start, that’s what it’s all about.”
Check out what it’s all about at some of Rik Wright’s upcoming gigs.
July 2 – Vito’s Restaurant & Lounge, 927 Ninth Avenue, Seattle WA
July 12 – Choochokam Arts Fest, 208 Anthes Avenue, Langley, WA
August 16 – Hempfest, Myrtle Edwards Park and Elliott Bay Park, Seattle WA
Visit http://www.rikwright.com/ to learn more about Rik.